Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, on Saturday celebrated the annual Thanksgiving festival of Irreecha amid tight security and a significantly smaller crowd due to political tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of people were arrested ahead of the festival, some accused by authorities of plotting terror attacks and a new wave of unrest.
Wearing face masks and white clothes stitched with the colors of the Oromia region’s flag, people in downtown Addis Ababa were subjected to at least six security checks complete with body searches and, in some areas, sniffer dogs.
“I don’t know the kind of information they have but these security checks are too much,” said Hassen, a participant who gave only his first name, fearing for his safety. “Added with the COVID-19, it really has ruined the festive mood.”
The festival usually attracts hundreds of thousands of people, but only a few thousand were allowed to attend this year.
More than 500 people were arrested on suspicion of plotting to disrupt the festival, the Oromia police commission said Thursday. On the same day, the National Intelligence and Security Service said it had arrested people suspected of planning to carry out terror attacks and cause unrest at the celebrations in Addis Ababa and nearby Bishoftu, adding that 10 Kalashnikovs were seized.